Let me say up front that as much as I tried to listen to every major release, I missed a lot of good albums. So if you’re wondering why [Good Album A] isn’t on here, I probably didn’t listen to it enough.
But of the good albums that I did listen to, I listened to them a lot and wanted to share them.
The first section is my
ten actually eleven favorite albums with a quick blurb on why I loved them so much. The second section is essential for the Honorable Mentions. They didn’t crack my top ten, but they’re worth a listen. The third section is for my favorite EPs of the year.
I promise this is less overwhelming than my favorite songs list.
Once I started listening to them, I couldn’t stop
A Tribe Called Quest, “We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your service”
I’m always skeptical when it comes to posthumous albums. When artists die while working on a new album or their label decides to use previously recorded, unreleased material, it almost always feels hollow knowing that one of the main performers is no longer with us.
So when Phife Dawg died in March and Q-Tip announced in October that a new Tribe album was weeks away, I was ready to be disappointed. But in spite of Phife’s notable absence on some songs, the void is filled by an insane group of guests (Long-time collaborators Busta Rhymes and Consequence, Andre 3000, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Elton John, and Kanye West to name a few).
The resulting album is a fitting end to one of the best rap groups of all-time.
Anderson .Paak, “Malibu” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Earlier this year, with the buzz around his second album Malibu by the day, the Aftermath signee told The Guardian that if Dr. Dre had called five year ago, he wouldn’t have been ready.
True or not, he is completely in command at age 30, combining R&B, hip-hop, rock, and any other genre that he sees fit into a phenomenal hour-long album. He even put out a second collaboration with producer Knxwledge for good measure. He’ll spend 2017 opening up for Bruno Mars on his world tour, which should go a long way to making him a household name.
Blood Orange, “Freetown Sound” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Ok, the fact that Dev Hynes received zero Grammy nominations is a true testament to how terrible the award show has become over the years. He already arranged and contributed vocals to a Grammy-winning album back in 2007(!). Now as a primarily solo project, he’s continued to make quality music.
Whether he fits more into the Urban Contemporary, Traditional R&B, or Electronic category, Freetown Sound is good enough to merit consideration in any of them. It has a much heavier tone than the dance grooves of Cupid Deluxe — Hynes says that the album was intended for those who have been told they’re “not black enough, too black, too queer, not queer in the right away” — but from the production, to the socially-conscious lyrics, to the phenomenal features, the Grammys keep ignoring for much longer.
C Duncan, “The Midnight Sun” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Like Hynes, C Duncan is another UK composer that achieved success long before his solo career, creating compositions for a British TV series.
And like Hynes, his latest album is has a variety of sounds, from folk to dream pop with elements of classical thrown in.
Car Seat Headrest, “Teens of Denial” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Though he’s now based out Seattle, Will Toledo is originally from Leesburg and attended both VCU and William & Mary. But other than the album’s closer, “Joe Goes to School”, which talks about petting Colonial Williamsburg horses and biking down Duke of Gloucester Street, you won’t find many Virginia references on his first proper Matador Records release.
What you will find is some of the most direct, and sometimes angsty, indie rock of 2016. Clocking in at 70 minutes, Toledo covers the highs, the depression, and the inevitable drug use involved with growing up and considering his prolific output (eight self-released albums since 2010), he’ll have plenty more to say in 2017.
Hinds, “Leave Me Alone” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Originally going by the name “Deers”, this all-girl band from Madrid’s debut album is straight up garage rock. The kind that you imagine blasting through California on a summer day.
Hinds rarely stray from this formula, they keep it entertaining throughout. They shared five of the 12 tracks as singles prior to the official album release, but previously unheard songs like “Easy” and “I’ll Be Your Man” show that they didn’t just put out all of their best stuff early.
You’ll probably have more fun listening to this one more than the other nine on the list.
KAYTRANADA, “99.9%” (Spotify | Apple Music)
To me, a big reason why despite the explosion of electronic and dance music over the last five years, it still seems to be on the outskirts of mainstream music circles is the traditional formula of electronic/dance artists. They lend themselves to create great songs, but rarely produce great albums. And with all the fact that full-length albums becoming less and less important, they’re still seen as the mark of a great musician.
Unless you’re Daft Punk or Kraftwerk, you’re probably putting out great songs, but forgettable albums. Or you’re forgoing proper albums altogether. The real money is made on tour anyway.
Kaytranada seemed to be going down a similar route, releasing great remix after great collaboration after great production, but no debut album. But with the help of a huge slate of guests (including Craig David, of all people), his debut explore a multitude of layers and samples while still maintaining his trademark heavy-percussion dance sound.
Kendrick Lamar, “untitled unmastered.” (Spotify | Apple Music)
I can’t tell you how many times I replayed Kendrick Lamar’s 2014 performance on The Colbert Report. It may have been in the hundreds. When it was nowhere to be found on To Pimp A Butterfly, I wondered if it would ever see a proper release. But on March 4, TDE released a number of unreleased demos from the T.P.A.B. sessions, with his untitled Colbert track included.
Part of its appeal was how big of a departure it was from the music of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City which, for as great of a release as was, contained little to nothing in the way of avant-garde/jazz/experimental.
The best comparison for Kendrick’s musical growth from his debut to his second album is Kanye’s jump from the backpack rap of College Dropout to the orchestral sounds of Late Registration. Both took risks and each paid off. The release of untitled unmastered is like getting to Kendrick’s transformation in real-time.
Porches, “Pool” (Spotify | Apple Music)
So yeah, I have an affinity for artists who take risks. I’ve only had the chance to see Kanye once and haven’t seen Kendrick yet, but I got to see Porches twice in 2016.
Though not of the same magnitude as Kendrick or Kanye, Aaron Maine took a risk of his own, ditching the folk rock of his debut album for the electronic synthpop of Pool. His girlfriend Frankie Cosmos — who makes an appearance in the next section of this list — contributes backing vocals and bass.
It may take a few listens to appreciate its solemn, sometimes haunting sounds, but once you hear “Braid”, “Hour”, and “Shape”, you’ll see why I gladly paid to dance to the same songs twice.
Schoolboy Q, “Blank Face” (Spotify | Apple Music)
For as much as I love Schoolboy Q (a lot), I feel as if I don’t appreciate him enough at times. Both Oxymoron and now Blank Face were placed on a “listen to later” list of mine and weren’t re-visited until way later. I came back around to Blank Face sometime in November and I’ve been kicking myself for not listening to it when it first came out.
Schoolboy Q doesn’t do anything half-assed — you won’t find many songs under three minutes and five to six minute tracks aren’t out of the ordinary either. Despite this, he never burns out. He teams up with the occasional guest (Kanye West, Jadakiss, Anderson .Paak, Vince Staples, among others), but the 72-minute lyrical assault never stops.
Basically, I want to apologize. Your next release will be a midnight listen for sure.
Solange, “A Seat at the Table” (Spotify | Apple Music)
It’s been on my mind for years, but now I’m more confident than ever: Beyonce is by far the biggest pop star in the family, but Solange’s music has more depth. And that isn’t a slight on Beyonce but as enjoyable as Lemonade was, A Seat at the Table will stick with me for much longer.
In a way, it seems like Solange drives Beyonce’s eclectic musical tastes and social views more than the other way around. It was Solange who was singing Grizzly Bear lyrics to Beyonce at a show back in 2009. So when Beyonce came out rocking Black Panther gear at the Super Bowl and laying on top of floating police cars the “Formation” video, it came as no surprise that Solange would put forth an album later in the year that’s so full of themes regarding race and ethnicity.
From police killings (“Rise”), to black empowerment (“Borderline”, “F.U.B.U.”), to black identity (“Don’t Touch My Hair”), Solange sums up the general feeling of being black in 2016 better than anyone else could.
TL;DR keep enjoying Beyonce, but stop sleeping on her sister.
They weren’t among my favorites, but received considerable plays.
Beyonce, “Lemonade” (Tidal)
She perfected the surprise album release back in 2013 and it helps that she’s now putting out the best music of her solo career.
Frank Ocean, “Blonde” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Parquet Courts, “Human Performance” (Spotify | Apple Music)
If you’re reading this, like Porches and Mac DeMarco, I know that one day you’ll appreciate Parquet Courts.
Whitney, “Light Upon the Lake” (Spotify | Apple Music)
So members of now-disbanded Smith Westerns — one of which was also Unknown Mortal Orchestra‘s drummer — form a duo and enlist Jonathan Rado (Foxygen) to produce their debut album. This is a match made in musical Heaven for me.
These weren’t exactly full-length albums, but they didn’t need to be
No Mana, “Game Over” (Spotify | Apple Music)
I like to play this when I’m close to finishing work. It doesn’t sound like EDM in the traditional sense, but it’s damn impressive.
Porches, “Water” (Spotify | Apple Music)
As if Pool wasn’t enough, Porches also released alternate versions of many of the song’s albums and threw in a few unreleased songs.
Triathalon, “Cold Shower” (Spotify | Apple Music)
Thanks again, Nick.